Note from Managing Editor: Given the sensitive nature of this material, the author of this piece asked to remain anonymous. The author hopes this story will be helpful to many people.
This past year my 15-year-old niece decided she was a boy.
For the last two years, kids at school have bullied her, thrown rocks at her, hit her in class, and made fun of how she looks. Teachers have not seen it and say they can’t do much. My niece’s mom is single, has lived with multiple boyfriends, has been in and out of abusive relationships, and is an alcoholic. Her daughter has lived through it all and hates her mom and her life. She is tired of worrying about her mom passing out or having to call the police to wake her mom up. Her closest relationship is my mother-in-law, a woman who is harsh and unkind.
My niece’s self-hate is evident. The dysfunction around her is obvious. She has never met a Christian other than my family, and we live a few states away. She is alone.
Then she attempted suicide.
This is when the religious secular state came for my niece.
Upon her announcement she was a boy, state counselors began intensive counseling and gave her a mentor, an 18-year-old who had transitioned from a girl to a boy. Then came meetings with my sister-in-law and mother-in-law: If they don’t call her a boy and use her new name, she will commit suicide and they will lose her. When people have no deeply held convictions and are told they are responsible for the suicide of their daughter, you can imagine how quickly they acquiesce. And then came the announcement: She can’t do surgery without their approval, but they should allow her to have surgery immediately.
My niece is sixteen. The counseling lasted a few weeks. The state psychologists, a teenage mentor appointed by the state, and representatives from child protective services were encouraging her to start taking testosterone and mutilate her body—to cut off her breasts and remove her uterus. Let that sink in.
And then came my family. We were joining them for vacation – a week together in a cabin. What should we tell our five young children? Our niece was told by our extended family that we would judge her. She was told we were super religious and would not understand. We were told to call her a he and by her new name. Our 3-year-old daughter needed to do the same.
The transgender movement was no longer theoretical for us. It became real as we prayed and cried and tried to figure out how best to respond as family members who live far away. Here is what we did. We hope it encourages you to do something similar.
My wife and I began to pray, daily, for our family. We ordered resources like When Harry Became Sally and the Transgender Debate. We discussed them together. We agreed to a framework for interaction and argument. And we thought of our niece, not as some point to be debated, but as a person, made in the image of God, confused and the victim of abuse from state counselors.
We Shared with Our Daughters
We decided to tell our older daughters. What exactly did we say? We started first by asking them what they thought about how God made them. We asked them what made them girls. And we did it in casual conversation. Then after a few weeks we sat down with them and told them how we loved our niece. We told them how God had created her, and then we told them that she was struggling to believe she was a girl and wanted to be a boy. One of my daughters sobbed. We talked about Jesus and we prayed.
We Told the Family Ahead of Time We Were Not Going to Give In
Ahead of our visit, our niece wasn’t talking to us by phone or text, but my sister-in-law and mother-in-law were pressing upon us the need to call my niece a “he” and by the new name she had taken. We did not really care about the new name she had taken on, but we were not going to call her by her preferred pronoun. That didn’t mean we were going to be aggressive about it and try to correct people. I know there are other godly believers that might handle these situations differently (Rosaria Butterfield comes to mind), but in this instance, we just were not going to take part in the delusion.
And in this moment we realized something. While on social media the family of my niece was putting on a brave face and posting about how hateful it was not to support transgender kids by calling them their preferred pronoun and supporting gender reassignment surgery, the reality was that they were struggling themselves. The activists were stealing away their daughter. The grandparents remarked in passing how hard it was for them to talk to our children and know they were confusing them. They felt trapped by having reality dictated to them by a teenager and state counselors.
We Treated Our Niece with Love and Gave Her the Gospel
When we arrived we could tell our niece was scared. But we arrived with hugs and love for everyone. And no matter how hard we tried, it was impossible to avoid pronouns: calling everyone for dinner; telling my kids where to find my niece; everyone else saying “he” and my small children becoming confused. After a day or two, we decided to take my niece out to dinner after she had a fight with her mom. And there we just asked questions and listened. Her story was heartbreaking and the conviction of being a boy was not as solid as everyone portrayed. If only she had a good counselor or one Christian friend who would listen to her.
Then we asked to share our thoughts with her. We started with creation and ended with redemption. No one had ever told her that story before. We told her how we had come to faith in Christ, why our family thought we were crazy, how we were not perfect, and that redemption is found in Christ, not as a pill to swallow to fix her problems, but as the cosmic reality outside of herself that determines what is true. She had never heard that message before, and she wanted to know more. It was partly confusing because her group counseling was hosted by a church and led by a pastor along with a psychologist. The pastor hosting the group did not have the same message we had. He had hijacked words like love and acceptance to mean approval of her life choices.
For the rest of the week, we played games and laughed and encouraged. We told her if things didn’t work out, she could live with us. We never called her a boy; there was a truth standing outside our life that we could not control and a Master that determined what was true.
The Road Ahead
This story does not end with a conversion; it ends with harsh reality. We don’t live close, so the decisions we make and are making could be different than someone who lives with a child or by a neighbor who has gender dysphoria. Her mom, with recommendations from state workers, helped her enroll in a school where the student body is composed of kids expelled from other schools and transgender kids. Reinforcement of the delusion continues. Her mom and live-in boyfriend continue to drink and live off credit cards, unable to hold a stable job. Grandma continues to shame and manipulate everyone.
And yet, we know the door has been opened and the seed has been planted. We have learned a few things through our interactions. They may encourage you.
First, is that for many, facts don’t matter. Statistics about transgenderism (e.g., how surgery doesn’t bring the freedom people are looking for) don’t have an impact. It’s experience over hard data; it’s anecdotal stories over research. Our culture can seem to be driven by the hard sciences, but in reality we are dominated by self-actualization, science be damned.
Second, is that no matter how carefully we express love, it’s a no-win situation, and we will most likely be called “traditional” or “crazy religious” or “judgmental.” Those are the derogatory labels for those who don’t agree with their view of reality. Love must equal acceptance and agreement, or else. The activists don’t realize that they are the fundamentalists they say they hate so much. Christians should all come to the realization that no matter how careful we are with words, nuanced in our approach, and expressive in our emotions and care, at the end of the day Jesus is Lord and the wages of sin is death.
Last, what has been reinforced to us more than anything else is that the gospel brings healing. When one comes from a family of generational brokenness without personal interaction with followers of Christ, and the only familiar conservative Christians are political talking heads, the barriers are high. And yet, the gospel is powerful, as testified in our own salvation and the millions of people transformed and conformed into Christ’s image. It is in that gospel we have hope, knowing that the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to blow into our family’s life and upend generational hardness. Maybe you will be the good feet to bring that message to them. May it be so.